By Capt. Olivia Cobiskey, 205th Infantry Brigade Public Affairs April 11, 2013
ATTERBURY-MUSCATATUCK TRAINING SITE - As deployments draw down and employment rates continue to fluctuate, First Army Division East is committed to helping Reserve and National Guard Soldiers face the challenge of returning to their civilian lives with financial and career planning.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics employment data, veterans who served in Iraq, Afghanistan, or both have an unemployment rate of 10.9 percent, more than three points higher than the national average of 7.8 for 2012. According to the Department of Human Resources at Atterbury-Muscatatuck, 35 percent of Soldiers demobilizing at the training site are unemployed.
"I think the greatest obstacle Soldiers face in today's job market is understanding and then subsequently communicating the benefits of their military skills to a civilian employer," said Lt. Col. Mary C. Shaw, commander of Director of Human Resources at Atterbury-Mascatatuck.
"Many soldiers have skills that are in demand, such as organizational skills, leadership qualities, and communications experience. However, a lot of soldiers believe their only skills are to shoot a weapon or perform guard duty and these are the soldiers who need the tools to translate their military experience into bankable civilian skills."
The newly-passed federal law requires the Army National Guard and Reserve component Soldiers to attend the Veteran's Opportunity to Work/Transition Assistance Program and adds seven hours of class time to mobilization training and two days to demobilization training. First Army Division East overseas all demobilization of Reserve Component Soldiers at Camp Atterbury Ind. As part of that demobilization, VOW/TAP information to assist Soldiers in finding employment.
First Army Division East commanders, at all levels, are dedicated to providing Soldiers and their Families with the quality of life commensurate with their service and sacrifice, said Col. John F. Dunleavy, commander of the 205th Infantry Brigade, First Army Division East, at Atterbury.
"VOW/TAP is an extremely important program. These Soldiers committed themselves to the service of their nation," said Dunleavy. "I think it is the least we can do to assist them as best we can as they transition back to their civilian careers."
Many Soldiers earn significantly more money while deployed giving them an opportunity to pay down debt and improve their credit score, said Penny White, a financial counselor with the Army Career and Alumni Program. According to Debt.org, a quarter of military personnel owe an excess of $10,000 in credit card debt. As part of the VOW/TAP training, Soldiers review and gain a better understanding of credit reports and creating budget.
Staff Sgt. Walter Butler, a well-driller with the Tennessee National Guard's 775th Engineering Detachment, from Jackson, Tenn., deploying to the Horn of Africa, said the extra time spent in the classroom is well worth it, particularly for the younger Soldiers.
"We (my family) struggled; it would have been good to have some of this training when we started our family in 1988," said Butler, a middle school principle in Collinwood, Tenn. "If we had some of these tools, I would have a little more money now; I'd be a little more comfortable.
"Hopefully this instruction will help them understand that they can control their finances."
According to Shaw, these programs mirror the Army Career and Alumni Program (ACAP) that has been in place in the active Army for more than 20 years.
"The VOW / TAP provide these soldiers with alternative ways to look at their experience and help them to put these skills into a resume or communicate them in an interview," Shaw said. "I spoke to an E-4 yesterday about his experience attending the three-day Department of Labor workshop. He responded that it was the best three day training he has ever received in the military and that it opened his eyes to how valuable his skills really are in the civilian workplace."
The program's emphasis on the returning Soldiers is to ensure that each one of them is provided with the personal care they need to successfully transition back to their family and civilian career. The three-day program provides them with resources to help look for employment or to start school or go back to school. They receive briefings from the Army Career and Alumni Program, Army Community Service, Army Continuing Education Service, Veteran's Affairs, and Workforce Development representatives.
Throughout the program, Soldiers receive materials and information on programs such as the Veterans Employment Initiative Task Force and the Secretary of the Army Transition Policy, which encourage civilian employers to employ veterans. Soldiers also receive training on how to build a competitive resume and to access numerous federal and state programs aimed at assisting soldiers with their transition out of active military service.
Soldiers also visit the website www.onetonline.org which helps them translate military skills, training, and experience into credentialing appropriate for civilian jobs.
Master Sgt. Sharla Stevens, the operations noncommissioned officer for the Indiana Agricultural Development Team that just returned from Afghanistan in April, said she thinks the training gave Soldiers confidence to apply for jobs that they might not otherwise.
"I think people sell themselves short," said Stevens, from Greenwood, Ind. "It's helpful to know there are people out there to help kick-start them in the right direction."
The 205th Infantry Brigade, part of First Army Division East, mobilizes, trains, validates and deploys Reserve Component units to support overseas military operations. Along with Reserve component units, the division's trainer/mentors prepare and deploy sailors and airmen, along with selected members of the interagency and intergovernmental departments, to provide trained and ready forces across a full-spectrum of operations to regional combatant commanders worldwide.